pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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As He Is Righteous

Reading: 1st John 3: 4-7

Verse Seven: “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous”.

Our passage today from 1st John talks about how we live our lives. In general terms, it is about living in sin or living in Christ. On the surface, John delineates the two, but upon deeper reflection sin is a thing we all struggle with daily in our lives. Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it is not as if we never sin again. The reality is that we sin less and less as we become more and more like Christ as we grow in our faith. But we are never really sinless in this life.

In verse five John writes, “you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins”. John is writing of the grace and mercy and forgiveness that we are offered through Jesus. He appeared or became incarnate so that He could go to the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world. Jesus, who “in Him is no sin”, took on our sins so that we could be forgiven and free.

John goes on in verse six to say that when we live in Jesus Christ we do not keep sinning. When we live in a personal relationship with Jesus, we gain the power and strength to overcome our sins. One by one we are able to cast aside those temptations that lead us to sin. For example, when we look back over our life, we can see things that used to cause us to sin that do not lead us into sin anymore as we have matured in our faith. But Satan is always at work, always trying to find a new angle, a new temptation, a new way to lead us into sin. It is a constant battle that is being waged against the followers of Jesus.

Every day, therefore, brings its challenges. This we know. We also know that God’s love never ends and that His mercies are new every morning. We also know that Jesus will wipe away our sins each and every time we repent and seek forgiveness. As we grow in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus, we more and more mirror verse seven, which reads, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous”. May we seek to be like Hesus every day, living as a righteous and holy people in the world. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.

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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: “There the Lord bestows His blessings, even life forevermore”.

Psalm 133 is all about the blessing of living in unity. When our relationships are filled with unity and communion, life does not get much better than that. It brings to mind those carefree relationships of early childhood, when we simply played together, and those days of first falling in love, when he or she could do no wrong. Yet as we age our relationships with others grows and becomes more complicated. Even the relationship with the love of our life has times of strife and discord. As we are imperfect creatures, there is no earthly relationship that is perfect.

Still the psalmist is clearly calling us to live with each other in unity. It is a worthy thing to call us to. As he writes, it is good and pleasant when we get along and work well together. The oil on the head and the dew on the land are blessings. We too experience God’s blessings when we live in unity. It is because “there the Lord bestows His blessings, even life forevermore”.

God is also a part if our community of faith. We are also called to live in unity with God. This is a little different than living in unity with one another because God is perfect. In covenant, God promised to be our God and to always love us. He does so without fail. But fail we do! We fall to sin and create separation from God. But through the covenant of Jesus’ blood God offers us mercy and grace and forgiveness over and over and over. Through this gift we are restored to the holy and perfect person that can be once again in relationship with God.

From our relationship with God we learn what it requires to live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It starts with love. As Jesus said, they will know we are His disciples by how we love one another. Next we must be quick to add mercy and grace and forgiveness to our human relationships too. When we focus on these qualities, then we can experience unity and live in communion with each other. May we ever practice love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. May we ever live in unity with our community of faith, bringing God honor and glory.


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Divine and Human

Reading: Mark 11: 1-11

Verse Two: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a cheering and excited crowd of supporters. It is a proclamation of hope and longing by the people. They so want someone to free them from the Romans. For the most part, over the past three years, they have clearly missed seeing the type of kingdom that Jesus is building. It is not a kingdom of might and military power but one of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and community.

Today’s first clue comes in the mode of transportation. Jesus does not select a fine warhorse to ride into the city. Instead He gives these instructions to the disciples: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”. Jesus chooses a meek and young animal. That He is able to ride the colt amidst all the noise and celebration testifies to His quiet power. But at the time only His inner circle of disciples would marvel at this. The masses ignored the colt because they wanted and could only see one thing – a possible Messiah to save them from the Romans.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He goes to the temple. Many probably followed His there, presuming that He would raise His hands to quiet the crowd before giving a rousing speech to stir up the people even more. But Jesus enters the temple and simply looks around. He then quietly exits the city. Perhaps Jesus was just taking stock of the state of the temple and beginning to formulate a plan for His last week.

Jesus and His disciples quietly clip out of town and go to Bethany for the night. No crowds follow, eager to see what is next. We know that Jesus and company often take rest when they visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so we assume this is where they went to spend the night. Their home is a place that is special to Jesus. It is a place where He finds rest, peace, and community, surrounded by people He loves and that love Him. With the week that lies ahead it is a good place to be for a night.

In the small details of the passage today we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan and into His humanity in needing to surround Himself with a loving community. One shows His strength and true power and the second shows a humble need to be loved and to belong. The divine and the human in one. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.


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Opportunities

Reading: Mark 1: 1-8

Verse Three: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.

At a school that I taught at for a long time, one year the theme was to performs RAKs – random acts of kindness.  The staff had t-shirts made up, we sought opportunities to do nice things for each other, and we tried to ‘catch’ students performing RAKs.  It spurred us all on to be on the lookout for opportunities to do random nice things for our students and for each other.  It was a good year at old DMS because whenever someone went out of their way to do something nice for you, it caused you to be mindful of finding something to do for someone else.  In this sense, it was contagious.

This same feeling seems to persist around this time of the year.  During the Advent season, love just seems to be a bit more in the air.  We hold the door open more readily, we buy and extra item or two at the grocery store for the food bank table at church, we smile and say ‘hello’ a little more warmly.  In many churches, we seek to go a bit further, doing something special during the Christmas season.  Some churches assemble Christmas Shoeboxes, some host a free Christmas dinner for the community, some collect a Christmas Eve offering for a cause in the community or in the world.  While all of these are just wonderful, they are just a part of what we are called to at the time of Christmas.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are also called to shine the light personally.  Just as John baptized in the wilderness, so too are we to call others to Jesus Christ through our words and actions.  Through the ways we demonstrate love, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness… we are seeking to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.  It is by being Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart that we invite others to come to know Him.  One of my devotionals put it this way this morning: “When we love, He will come”.  It is a great thought.  Each day, from now through Christmas, may we individually seek opportunities to give another person a random act of kindness, allowing Jesus to shine His light and love into another’s heart.  May it be so.


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Ever Present

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-8

Verse Eight: “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God stands forever”.

The people Israel strayed from God and His ways, wandering off into idol worship and other sins.  The Babylonians invaded, destroyed the temple, and carried off the best and brightest people into exile.  It was a time of despair; a feeling of abandonment was prevalent.  At times we too stray away from God and find ourselves in sin, lost in the wilderness.  At other times, forces outside of ourselves seem to rise up and life crumbles around us.  In both cases, we feel alone and in a place of despair.  We too know what it can feel like to be out in the wilderness of life.

But because God is faithful, the time in the wilderness does not last forever.  Although it is sometimes necessary, God does not abandon us and leave us in the wilderness forever.  Because of His love and mercy, God seeks us out and calls us back.  Our passage today speaks of this: “Comfort, O comfort my people”.  God is saying that it is okay, that He is right there.  The prophet Isaiah goes on to remind them that a time is coming when a voice will call out in the desert and the paths will be made straight and level for the Lord.  The “glory of the Lord will be revealed”.  There is promise and hope even in our times in the wilderness.  Our God is faithful and true.

The voice of God encourages Isaiah to cry out on behalf of the people.  The Lord always wants to hear from His children.  Our passage goes on to remind us that the glory of man is like the grass of the fields or like the flowers – it flourishes or blooms today but then is gone.  It withers and fails.  But just as there is a temporal nature to our successes, so too is there a temporary nature to our failures.  Through the highs and the lows, God remains our loving and faithful God.  Isaiah reminds us of this, writing, “the word of our God stands forever”.  His words are love, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, joy.

If we find ourselves in the wilderness today, may we cling to God’s words of hope, love, promise.  If we find ourselves in a good place today, may we rejoice in God’s words of mercy, peace, grace, forgiveness, and love.  God is our all in all.  He is our ever present help in the trial and our constant light in the joy.  Thanks be to God.


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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.